Dear fellow religious trauma survivor,
Please gossip with me. Please feel free to tell me what happened to you, and who did it, and what your experience felt like. Name names. It’s okay. Obscure fact in favor of senses and memory. That’s okay, too.
Your story…and even your opinion, hot take, impression, instinct, hunch and idea…If you think it doesn’t matter because it might fall into “gossip,” I think we should share it.
I want to take back the right to gossip and to find freedom in “women talking.”
Here’s what the word actually means: casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.
The religious tradition I’ve known shames gossip. The reformed presbyterian cult I was a part of even banned women’s bible studies, because the elders said when women gather to talk, they gossip. And let me tell you…because of what went on that group, those men needed their women to keep silent.
I’ve heard a lifetime of sermons on the dangers of gossip and slander…the admonition extends to memoir writers and whistle-blowers. There’s pressure to keep silent and silence is elevated to a virtue.
Who benefits from silence?
Those who have something to hide. And the best way to guarantee silence? Condition people to shame themselves for sharing. Shut it down at the source.
The source being, the voice of the one who can tell, rather than the origin of harm and trauma.
“I don’t want to gossip, but…” is then followed with self-censure. Because gossip is a sin. Getting it wrong causes harm. Rumors spread like wildfire.
Dear fellow trauma survivor, so does the truth.
I’ll go so far to say that gossip is our birthright. Women relate, connect, share, and tell. In the Bible, women gathered at the well. Before the internet, we gathered at the office water cooler. Now we use hashtags and memes. Men do it too, but women seem born for it. I think this makes abusers afraid.
I remember the presence of the pastor who built a case against me, a red-faced control-freak who got twitchy when he saw women talking. I’d love to prove his fears right, have you over for coffee, and listen to what you know. What life has taught you. What you think as a result. “Women talking” suggests sisterhood and the fire of female support.
Please understand—I’m not talking about making up lies or betraying confidences. I trust you to know the difference. Honest shares that relieve our burdens, expose the darkness, and offer communion should not be lumped in with that.
Good gossip is transparency. Good gossip sheds light on what happened in the darkness and helps us reclaim our pre-trauma selves. It helps others feel seen, heard, related to, and less alone. In this way, our sharing creates the sacred. Our sharing is redemptive.
No wonder abusers feel threatened when they hear “women talking.”
So, please gossip with me. “Tell me about life, yours, and I will share with you mine.” (Mary Oliver, a little paraphrased). You can tell me who did it––you can say their name out loud. Your version of what happened to you and what you think about it is what matters. You don’t have to meet journalist and legal standards of confirmation in order to speak. We’re not inflicting pain and slander here and this isn’t about “them.”
There’s mystic and sweet communion found in “women talking,” and healing from trauma too.
Please help me get the word out to fellow trauma survivors.